Patrick Keiller

Excerpt from an examination of the roles of walking and the everyday in Patrick Keiller’s film London, Margaret Tait’s film Where I Am Is Here and Jan Morris’ essay on Bath. 2010/11. 

'Robinson in Ruins and London follow the seasons, winter moving into spring. Although seasons might suggest progression, hardly anything happens other than a repetition of movement during which there is a slow accretion. Such

"narrative structure [in film] provides temporal continuity to compensate for the lack of […] dramatic character-based plot."[1]

'The temporal cycle recycles itself: in Robinson’s expeditions, days follow nights that follow days, and in Tait, snow returns after rain. In Robinson in Ruins, a spider goes around and around on her web, and a combine harvester ventures back and forth across a field. Again, here is movement without linearity. In capturing Jane Austen or Lord Nelson as they dodge puddles or look from a window, Morris progresses no further beyond these vignettes. We will never know whether Austen made it to the library; her movement recurs in the essay and in our imagination, as if suffering catatonic repetition. While walking might suggest a sequence of steps and thoughts, it rarely is so linear: thoughts jostle among a muddle of stimuli from the surrounding street or field. If we take a paragraph from Morris as an example, we get a sense of the vertical mass of associations through asyndetic listing:

"Bath itself, Bath of the Georgian splendours, Bath of the golden stones and the Pump Room minuet, the Bath that Jane Austen knew and loathed, that Sheridan eloped from, that Gainsborough learnt his art in, that Clive, Nelson, Pope and Mrs Thrale retreated to – Bath of the Bath buns and Bath chairs, Bath of the dowagers, Bath that greets the visitor terraced and enticing as the train swings into Spa Station down Brunel’s line from Paddington – the Bath of the persistent legend is a Somerset borough of the middle rank, rather bigger than Annecy, say, about the size of Delft."[2]

'Reading each reference without a full stop or and creates breathlessness as if we are walking fast through the city and its history. We linger over some things as if in a Keilleresque study, and flit over others, applying what de Certeau calls the synecdoche and asyndeton of walking, in which the topography is both expanded to represent more than that which is written (synecdoche) and skipped over (asyndeton).'[3]

[1] Alifragkis, S and Penz, F (2006) ‘Spatial dialectics: montage and spatially organised narrative in stories without human leads’ Digital Creativity Vol. 17 No. 4 [journal] Cambridge: University of Cambridge p.222
[2] Morris, J (1986) “Fantasy of Greatness; Bath, 1974” in Among the Cities London: Penguin p.34
[3] de Certeau, M (1988) The Practice of Everyday Life [vol 1] Los Angeles: University of California Press p.101